Infections caused by Vibrio vulnificus were first reported in 1979 by Blake et al. of the US Centers for Disease Control. At that time described as a ‘rare, unnamed halophilic lactose-fermenting Vibrio species’, V. vulnificus has emerged as the most virulent foodborne pathogen in the United States with a hospitalization rate of 0·910 and a case-fatality rate of 0·390. It is in addition a significant cause of potentially life-threatening wound infections. Infections following ingestion of raw or undercooked seafood, commonly raw oysters, can lead to a primary septicaemia with a fatality rate of 50–60%. An unusual symptom, occurring in 69% of 274 cases reviewed by Oliver, is the development of secondary lesions, typically on the extremities, which are generally severe (often a necrotizing fasciitis) and require tissue debridement or amputation. These cases occur almost exclusively in males over the age of 50 years. Interestingly, this gender specificity has been found to be due to the female hormone oestrogen, which in some manner provides protection against the lethal V. vulnificus endotoxin. Further, most cases occur in persons with certain underlying diseases which are either immunocompromising or which lead to elevated serum iron levels (e.g. liver cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis, haemochromatosis). V. vulnificus infections resulting in primary septicaemia have been extensively studied, and the subject of several reviews. This review concentrates on the wound infections caused by this marine bacterial pathogen, including the more recently described biotypes 2 and 3, with brief discussions of those caused by other marine vibrios, and the increasingly reported wound/skin infections caused by Mycobacterium marinum, Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae, and Aeromonas hydrophila.
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